In late 2002, a small informal group of business people and concerned citizens developed the idea of the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership as a vehicle for positive change in Victoria’s First Nations community. They approached the Australian Communities Foundation (known then as the Melbourne Community Foundation) and the Brotherhood of St Laurence to assist with the financial management of the organisation.
The Fellowship was originally known as the Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership. The name change occurred in 2007 to avoid confusion with the Nicholls Family activities.
The Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership was formalised in 2003 and is administered by a voluntary Advisory Committee that provides executive support to the Fellowship.
Since 2003, through the provision of financial support, networking opportunities and professional development to appointed Fellows and Emerging Leaders, the Fellowship has endeavoured to empower First Nations leaders to focus their drive and energy in areas that have been identified by Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as being of importance.
First Nations leaders have been able to pursue work in areas such as financial literacy, community governance and direction, school retention, building self-esteem, working with mainstream organisations/programs around First Nations perspectives, building skills and capacity, improving health and wellbeing, raising awareness of mental health and disabilities, and ensuring their cultural identity remains intact through art/dance and music. They are also frequently contacted for public speaking engagements, presentations and are also asked to become members of boards and participate in workshops/seminars.
Some of the notable achievements of the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership include:
- The appointment of the Inaugural Fellow Paul Briggs in 2003.
- The appointment of three subsequent Fellows (in 2006, 2011 and 2014), 27 Emerging Leaders (from 2006 – 2020) and 4 Community Connections (in 2019). (Refer to the FIL Appointment of Fellows, Emerging Leaders and Community Connections Timeline in the Library Section).
- Led the inaugural “The Long Walk” anniversary in 2005.
- Attendance at the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) World Health Conference in Canada, as well as visiting First Nations organisations during a Study Tour of Canada in 2007.
- Attendance at the Reflection on Indigenous Learnings and Leadership: A Canada Study Tour experience Forum Presentation at the IBIS in 2007.
- Philanthropy Australia Indigenous Issues Affinity Group was formed after a coalition of interested parties were inspired at the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership event in 1997.
- An event was held in 2009 to celebrate the work and vision of its Inaugural Fellow. (Refer to the Inaugural Paul Briggs Luncheon 2009 and the Speech by Carly Sheldon in 2009 in the Library Section).
- ‘Who Says You’re Too Young to Lead?’ Youth Forum in 2010.
- Interviews with the Fellows and Emerging Leaders which were presented on DVD in 2013, as well as a compilation 10-year anniversary DVD of the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership.
- Published a book titled “IT’S IN US ALL: Stories of leadership” in 2013 (Refer to link).
- Ran a session titled ‘RIGHT WAY, WRONG WAY, WHICH WAY: stories from the field, practical steps and tools to forge respectful relationships and invest in leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the 2016 Philanthropy Australia National Conference in Sydney.
- Ran a webinar with Probono Australia and Philanthropy Australia titled ‘RIGHT WAY, WRONG WAY, WHICH WAY: Respectful funding relationships and cultural safety with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Ran a 1.5 day Retreat with the Alumni and First Nations Elders who have supported the Fellowship.
- Ran a session titled “DECOLONISING PHILANTHROPY: How can philanthropy advance in Indigenous community-led solutions?” at the 2018 Philanthropy Australia National Conference in Melbourne in conjunction with Woor-Dungin and the Cages Foundation.
- Conducted 4 Elders Gatherings in First Nations communities in 2018 in Craigieburn, Ulupna, Wodonga and the Mornington Peninsula.
- Conducted Community Gatherings in 2019 including a GMAR (Grandmothers Against Removals) held at Camp Jungai – Rubicon, a National Grassroots Gathering to discuss Sovereignty, Treaty and Constitutional Recognition in Melbourne, an Elders Gathering in Hastings at Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association where the Elders had an opportunity to tell their stories and launched “Mudigang dhulyarra – Elders speaking truthfully” short films at Nairm Marr Djambana in Frankston in March 2020.
- Assisted Towards a Just Society to transition to the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community-Led Philanthropy Fund in Victoria and launched in March 2019 as Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong (“to give jointly, to share together” in Woiwurrung language).
- Ran a session titled “Decolonising Wealth – Transforming Australian Philanthropy” at the 2021 Philanthropy Australia National Conference (online) in conjunction with Woor-Dungin, Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong and guest panelist Edgar Villanueva from the USA.